German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier will visit Washington in an effort to tamp growing U.S. pressure to ship weapons to Ukraine, arguing an unsteady cease-fire with Russian-backed rebels needs time to take hold.
Steinmeier will tell U.S. officials that Germany sees progress in the reduction of violence, withdrawal of heavy weapons and greater access for international observers, a Foreign Ministry official said, asking not to be identified speaking ahead of the trip.
Steinmeier, who has repeatedly ruled out arms shipments to resolve the yearlong conflict, will meet with Secretary of State John Kerry Wednesday and U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice Thursday. He’ll also speak with members of Congress, many of whom are pushing President Barack Obama to arm Ukrainian forces.
“We’re strong when the trans-Atlantic bond holds, when Europe and the U.S. work together and when Berlin and Washington are on the same page,” Steinmeier said in a statement before departing on the three-day trip.
While fighting in eastern Ukraine has subsided since the truce negotiated Feb. 12 in the Belarus capital of Minsk, the cease-fire has continually been broken, with new casualties nearly every day. One Ukrainian soldier was killed overnight and four others wounded in the latest fighting, according to military spokesman Anatoliy Stelmakh.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has personally taken the lead on negotiating a way out of the worst conflict with Russia since the Cold War, opposes weapons deliveries to Kiev. Some in her government has said arming Ukraine plays into the hands of Russian President Vladimir Putin and threatens to unravel the month-old truce.
“You can’t resolve this militarily with Russia,” Karl- Georg Wellmann, a lawmaker in Merkel’s CDU party and chairman of the German-Ukrainian parliamentary group, said in an interview. “The Russians are in a position to send in as many weapons as they want.”
Steinmeier’s message in Washington will be that Germany is pushing for implementing the rest of last month’s accord, including securing the border and preparing for local elections, the Foreign Ministry official said.
While Obama and Kerry have been willing to give the Minsk cease-fire a chance, members of Congress and military officials in the U.S. have stepped up demands to bolster support for Ukraine with “lethal defensive weapons.”
U.S. lawmakers from both parties spoke out Tuesday at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee for lethal aid to Kiev. Senator Ron Johnson, the Wisconsin Republican who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Europe, said there was “no question” among Republicans and Democrats on the panel that the U.S. should do more.
“I want to begin by sharing the frustration” on the committee “about the slowness with which we’re providing assistance to Ukraine,” said Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire.
The conflict over Ukraine has triggered U.S. and European Union sanctions that have helped push Russia’s economy to the brink of recession. The fighting in Ukraine has left at least 6,000 people dead, according to the United Nations.
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